Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Lisa Abrams


This descriptive, non-experimental, quantitative study was designed to answer the broad question, “What do grades mean?” Core academic subject middle school teachers from one large, suburban school district in Virginia were administered an electronic survey that asked them to report on aspects of their grading practices and assessment methods for one class taught during the 2008-2009 school year. The survey addressed the following topics: 1) primary purposes for grades, 2) attitudes toward grading, 3) assessment method, and 4) grading practices. Additionally, the study examined the relationship between teachers’ reported assessment and grading methods and student achievement. Overall results and results disaggregated by subject area, grade level, and student ability level suggest that teachers are consistent in what they consider the primary purposes for grades. The vast majority indicated that grades should communicate student levels of mastery of content and skills. However, sizable percentages of teachers reported that they also considered non-academic indicators such as effort, attendance, and paying attention in class when determining student grades, suggesting a lack of alignment between their reported beliefs and practice. The study examined the extent to which teachers’ reported grading and assessment practices were consistent with those recommended in the literature on measurement and assessment. The study findings are consistent with those of findings from previous studies suggesting that teachers engage in “hodgepodge grading,” a practice which incorporates non-academic factors into student grades. The results also show that teachers use a variety of assessment methods and types of questions when measuring student achievement. The results indicate that projects, student exhibits, essays, inclusion of zeros, and extra credit were associated with higher levels of student achievement. Conversely, norm-referencing, classwork, participation, and matching were negatively correlated with student grades and test scores.


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Date of Submission

May 2010

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